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French lift for leather shows

THE world's biggest leather fair organiser, Semaine Internationale du Cuir of France, is pumping cash into Hongkong's leather fair - a move which will allow the territory's annual exhibition to double in size.

The French firm will take a 40 per cent stake in a newly created joint-venture company, with the remainder to be held by the Hongkong Trade Fair Group, which has been organising the territory's leather fairs for the past 10 years.

Hongkong Trade Fair managing director Derek Dickins said: ''This is the first time a European - or indeed any overseas organiser - has put money into a Hongkong-born and based event. This is wonderful news for Hongkong.

''It shows great confidence in the wider Hongkong-China region, which may be politically divided but in economic and commercial terms is in total unity.'' Paris-based Semaine, which started as a group of trade bodies, organises the biggest leather fair in the world on more than 100,000 sq metres.

Chairman Pierre-Jacques Guene said: ''By buying into this fair organised in Hongkong and by establishing relations with our new partner whereby all decisions will be taken on a unanimous basis, we are emphasising very strongly our long-term commitment tothe Asia-Pacific region including of course the very important Chinese market.'' Mr Dickins said the Hongkong exhibition could conceivably double in size next year, when the show would be split into two: the first part would be devoted to the production process, and the second showing finished leather products.

Feedback from potential exhibitors, culled at this year's fair, on the two-in-one style exhibition showed strong support for the new concept, Mr Dickins said.

''The Far East is no longer a major production house. It is a major consumer market of vast proportions with a lot of disposable income - as much and possibly more than we have in the rest of the world,'' he said.

In addition to expanding floor space, which this year amounted to 36,000 sq m, the organisers are looking at ways to allow machinery manufacturers to display their products life-size, instead of resorting to videos and models.

Expansion plans will be further enhanced by the Government's intention to set aside $2.4 billion to expand facilities in the territory, outlined in this year's Budget speech.

Under the dual partnership, the fair will change its name to Asia Pacific Leather Fair next year.

More than 2,000 companies from around the world are exhibiting at Leather 93, which is being held at the Hongkong Convention and Exhibition Centre this week. A record 20,000 buyers from 70 countries are expected to attend.

Hongkong Trade Fair chairman Themistocles Vokos, dubbing the partnership an important development for the leather industry as a whole, said it marked a switch in global focus.

''Our link-up with the world's most established leather exhibition undoubtedly adds prestige to the Hongkong leather fair, the success of which clearly reflects the switch of the leather industry focus from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region.

''It is a tribute to the vitality and long-term stability of Hongkong.'' Leather has become one of Hongkong's most important exports, shoring up some $25 billion in handbag and travel goods sales alone last year - about three per cent of total exports.